Always leave them wanting more. That clearly isn’t the corporate slogan of Hyundai’s N Division, because on the same day PH got the chance to drive the hydrogen-fuelled N Vision 74 on track in Germany we also got to take a turn in a fully electric technology demonstrator, one far closer to production reality. This was, officially, the RN22e - but it was effectively showing off the powertrain of the Ioniq 5 N that will be on sale next year.
Beneath the wings and scoops, it wasn’t hard to see the production car that lurks underneath. The RN22e uses the bodyshell of the forthcoming Ioniq 6, which is set to be the Ioniq 5’s saloon-coupe sister. Sitting on Hyundai-Kia’s very advanced E-GMP platform means it has an 800 volt architecture with a 77.4kWh battery pack. This drives two motors, one for each axle, which together make 576hp and 545lb ft of torque. Although we’ll have to wait until the 5 N to experience it in a Hyundai, the same base powertrain is already in the Kia EV6 GT.
As a technology demonstrator and rolling testbed, the RN22e had a couple of key differences. The first was the use of a twin-clutch rear differential pack at the rear to allow the output of the back motor to be shunted 100 percent side-to-side - much more aggressively than the EV6 GT’s torque-biasing differential. The second was the one hinted at by the presence of ‘up’ and ‘down’ paddles behind the steering wheel. And no, these didn’t control variable regeneration levels.
As in the N Vision 74, my experience in the RN22e was limited to one stint on the Bilster Berg track, this being the driving resort built on the site of a one-time British army munitions depot and featuring some serious elevation changes. My drive was following an i30N, although this was being fanged at such a pace it nearly had a sizeable off on the first lap out, and it certainly wasn’t a hindrance on anything except the longest straights.
Compared to the N Vision 74 the RN22e felt lighter and more lithe in the corners, very keen to change direction for something weighing over two tons. Some of the high levels of adhesion were doubtless coming from track-biased P-Zero Corsa rubber the concept was wearing, but the ease with which cornering attitude could be tweaked and tucked was also proof of the smartness of the all-wheel-drive system. Power is only sent to the front axle when it’s required, so the RN22e is rear-driven most of the time, with those fast-acting clutch packs juggling torque side-to-side to help it turn. Even when pushed to, then through, its high limits the concept felt both stable and controllable.
There were two new functions to experience. The first was, no great surprise, a sound symposer; this being the way manufacturers are increasingly trying to add some more visceral excitement to the organ-distorting forces that senior EVs generate. Turning this on created an engine-like noise which played both inside and outside the car, and which sounded pretty loud even when experienced through a helmet. It sounded more convincing than the sci-fi soundtrack manufacturers often choose for EVs, and was enhanced further by some generated vibration through the seat bases. To be honest, it still felt like it was adding more distraction than experience, and - by itself - it would probably have been switched off.
Which is where the second system came in, this being known internally as virtual gearshift. It’s as mad as it sounds; once energised the speakers start to simulate the noise of rising revs, and - if the driver doesn’t shift up through the steering wheel paddle in time - it ultimately brings the car to a simulated limiter, acceleration tailing off as if the car has hit a slick of treacle. In the RN22e the only indication of how hard the pretend engine was working came from the changing volume and pitch of the artificial soundtrack, but Hyundai engineers say that a production version would have a rev-counter display and change-up lights. Also, more interestingly, it will be able to model the power characteristic of a combustion engine at different speeds, meaning it will be possible to feel the effect of shifting up early. Who knows, it may even be ludicrous enough to catch on.
Gimmicks aside, the RN22e shows that Hyundai’s N Division is very serious about creating an EV that, like its existing range, will be able to combine everyday practicality with the ability to deliver on-track thrills. One of the core criteria the Ioniq 5 N has apparently been developed to meet is the ability to handle a flat-out lap of the Nurburgring Nordschliefe without de-rating or overheating. On the basis of a limited first experience, this is a powertrain that feels impressively at home on a circuit.
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